Double Duty: Ramps (Compound Butter & Pickles)

Three steps forward and one step back.

I pack my life into a tiny room but have to leave it for three weeks until I can be myself in my own space again. My parents finally get a closing date on their house but then their lease falls through. I finally make some progress on a difficult project at work only to have to rearrange all the deadlines to put out another fire. The new apartment accepts dogs but has a $300 non-refundable pet fee.

Saturday I woke up to 43 degrees and driving rain, but left my warm waterproof sneakers packed 90 minutes away. Because who expects fall-like Juneau, Alaska weather at the start of Memorial Day weekend in Connecticut? Argh.

This is the part where I usually say that despite the lack of posts, I’ve been cooking great things. Well, folks – that isn’t true this time. The last decent thing I made was made on the fly on my last day at my old house. I’ve told you about that place right? The place where in the spring I can grab ramps outside my door IN MY PAJAMAS if I want – so long as I wear some decent XtraTufs? Man, am I gonna miss that place.

I have been so careful with the ramp patch, too. Harvesting only the greens most of the time, with enough bulbs for one small jar of pickles. But this year? After being so careful in my tiny personal patch for the last two years, I found a whole other carpet. Not sure how I missed it before – blindness in the heat of ramp euphoria, perhaps. And though I still took only one jar’s worth for pickles, I made sure to get the fattest ramps there were.  Because I hope to come back next year, but who knows? Because I wanted to. Or just because.

Of course, I made the decision to make pickles after I had packed away all of my jars. But ever-fleeting ramps are one thing thats always worth digging out a jar.

So three steps forward and one step back. This is my life lately. At least I have by ramp pickles in my fridge and compound butter in my freezer, waiting for after June 1st in my new apartment.

Ramp Pickles by Snowflake Kitchen

Preserved Lemon & Ramp Compound Butter

One stick unsalted butter, softened
Ramp greens (approximately 5 ramps – 10 leaves), cleaned well, dried and finely chopped
One preserved lemon, flesh removed and rind finely chopped
Black pepper to taste

In a perfect world, leave your butter on the counter, go forage your ramps, prep everything and when you come back, it should be soft enough. If you are like me and keep your butter in the freezer, it might take a bit longer, and you might get a bit impatient – so prep ahead of time. Small firm, but not frozen, chunks can be helped along in a food processor. Which – if you’re going to already get dirty, you might as well mix the whole batch in there. Of course you can just as well make quick use of a bowl, mixing utensil and/or your hands.

Like my favorite recipes, this one involves mixing everything together, tasting, and when satisfied, forming into a log/packing into your vessel of choice and freezing until later. The tasting is key here, as is using unsalted butter. The preserved lemons bring plenty of salt to the table for my taste. My 2013 batch of preserved lemons has a nice kick of aleppo pepper, which is really great here, but please use what you have. No preserved lemons? Make them next year, and add salt and chopped lemon rind (but take care to minimize the bitter pith).

Use everywhere from searing scallops to melting over the top of a great steak to serving with crusty bread.

Ramp Fridge Pickles
15-20 ramp bulbs, cleaned, de-rooted
One wide mouth pint mason jar
1/4 cup of white vinegar
Water to cover
One teaspoon salt
One bay leaf
One tablespoon mixed peppercorns
Spring of thyme or rosemary

The best thing about fridge pickles is they take exactly no time to come together. Add your veg in a jar, add your vinegar, salt and spices and top with water. Place in the frige and swirl gently a couple of times over the course of a week, and you have a great accompaniment to cheese, in salad, or finely chopped in place of your usual cukes. They are great sliced thin on top of tacos in place of pickled onions.

The Good, the Bad, and the Bitter

If you’ve been making double duty syrups and infusions for a while, no doubt you’ve been imbibing some homemade cocktail greatness. And while they can be spectacular (one Kate here, requesting rhubarbarita delivery, stat), sometimes they can fall a little flat. Bubbles are pretty great most of the time. Plastic bottle rotgut or top shelf artisanal spirits – depending on your mood, both have their place. Though, I still have yet to find a place for watered down light beer or jagermeister. Not even since during college. But it all can get kind of boring after a while. Nothing a little secret ingredient can’t fix.

Want to take your cocktail nerd up to eleven? Bitters, my friend.

Grapefruit Vanilla Bitters with Pink Peppercorns and Cardamom by Snowflake Kitchen

Not just that funky bottle with the label torn off in the back of your Dad’s liquor cabinet. (No? Just mine? Ok then.) Homemade bitters are the secret ingredient that you can never figure out. The one thing that takes your drink over the top and makes it not just memorable, but elevates it to obsessive.

So forgive me if this post finds itself a bit late in terms of seasonality, but good organic citrus can be found year round, even if the great stuff is more of a winter thing. Make it anyway. Your future cocktail nerd won’t regret it.

Grapefruit Vanilla Bitters with Pink Peppercorns and Cardamom
Adapted from Autumn’s Grapefruit Bitters with Juniper
Rind of approximately 2 grapefruits
3 tablespoons pink peppercorns
10 cardamom pods, cracked
1 vanilla bean split lengthwise
Onyx Moonshine, to cover

First off, wash and peel your grapefruit. Supreme it if you want, and make Marisa’s Grapefruit Jam or AJ’s Preserved Grapefruit with Mint Sugar Syrup with the fruit. Or just dip it some vanilla sugar and scarf it – you’ll thank me later. Chop the rind into small pieces. Add the rest of the ingredients and top with a high-proof liquor. Everclear and vodka work just fine, but I was lucky enough to have Onyx Moonshine on hand. Surely you’ve heard of ‘shine – its unaged whiskey – and this particular spirit is particularly delicious. Onyx is a local product for me and business that I love, and just so happens to make great bitters. I highly suggest you seek it out for yourself.

Grapefruit Vanilla Bitters with Pink Peppercorns and Cardamom by Snowflake Kitchen

Long story short: peel your grapefruit, use the fruit elsewhere, add everything to a jar, top with Onyx, and wait. Start tasting after 3ish weeks or so. Unlike other bitters made with bitter herbs, this one takes a while to infuse. I was happy with mine after a month, but yours may need to age for a longer or shorter amount of time. Add a tablespoon or so, and taste. You can always add more. (Note: for true bitters made with bitter herbs, most recipes call for only a drop. Citrus pith bitters are less intense, and you should add more volume to get the same bang for your buck). The grapefruit and vanilla play wonderfully with gin or St. Germain in a cocktail.

PS: I also made a meyer lemon version with coriander, ginger, chile and bay leaf with the same method. It’s really great when mixed with Bulleit Rye Whiskey. Make that too.

Double Duty: Grapefruit (Candied Peel + Syrup)

I think it happens unconsciously most of the time, but in general I like my food to reflect my spirit. When my heart is in the food that I make – I like to think that you can almost see the adjectives: Frugal. Simple with an unexpected twist. Local. Solid flavor. Tasty. At the same time, if you lined up recent eating: Passive-Aggressive. Broke. Unhealthy. Unplanned. Kind of depressing. Something is definitely up here. Like life re-evaluating. I don’t want to get into it too much, but on a food level, it speaks volumes.

It’s almost like I had unconsciously planned for this. I had multiple soups in the freezer, some my own and some from our local foodswap, ready to go for when I woke up and lunch was the furthest thing from my mind. I had jam and pickles and cheese, and could throw a few things in my bag and not throw off my whole day or go out and spend more money I didn’t have. That’s really the heart of putting things in jars, isn’t it? Preparation for the future. I mean, the ability to have a gift at any given moment is nice, but I like to think not the primary reason. Maybe I’m naive.

I planned ahead for when I couldn’t possibly have an appetite, but I also planned ahead with a few great distractions. Well – that’s not entirely true – I always have one or two major kitchen projects in the works. Though things didn’t work out for an order of beautiful Texas Ruby Reds, I did score some organic grapefruit at my coop. Salted grapefruit lime jam, a riff on Kaela’s Salted Cranberry Grapefruit Jam, while tasty came out far too cooked for my liking. There were some lovely grapefruit bitters and straight up segments, but far too much leftover rind. I figured if this idea didn’t work out, at least it would only cost me some sugar and time, so why not? I am so glad I did. And not just for the distraction.

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Photo credit: Laura Stone Photography

Candied Grapefruit Peel
Adapted from Candied Clementine Peel on Epicurious
5 organic grapefruits, preferably red
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups water
2 cups granulated sugar
Vegetable oil to grease drying rack
1 1/2 cups vanilla sugar

First and foremost – yes, you do need to spring for organic fruit here, as with any application that uses the rind of fruit. Take care to remove your peel – either by peeling the fruit or juicing. You need to accomplish two things: small, finger-sized pieces of peel that are completely without fruit and also have minimal pith. Do not make the peels too small here, you can always break into smaller pieces later. Some pith is, of course, fine – and I like that it makes the grapefruit peel not 100% sweet. That said – do take some of it off, and if you can take care to make it smooth it will help when the candied peels are air drying.

Take your trimmed peels and cover with water in a saucepan. I like to use one that is about 4″ deep – enough for the peels to float plenty but not a huge pot, either. Add a half teaspoon of the salt, and bring to a boil. Boil for approximately 10 minutes, but be careful that it doesn’t boil over. Drain the peels, but take care – they are somewhat delicate. Repeat the process twice more, starting with fresh salted water each time.

At this point, add the peels, granulated sugar and water into a clean pot. You are making a thin simple syrup that will gradually reduce into a thicker one while infusing the peel with sugar. Bring to a rolling boil and then reduce to a low boil. This step may take anywhere from 20 minutes to more – depending on your environment. You know the peels are done when they are translucent and the syrup is thick.

While the syrup is reducing, set up your final station with a drying rack and bowl of vanilla sugar. It helps greatly to lightly both oil the rack (canola oil is great) and place parchment paper underneath to catch excess syrup. Once finished, transfer the peels to the drying rack. They really do need half an hour to dry – do not shortcut this step. You may cut them into smaller pieces once they have cooled, if needed. Toss with vanilla sugar and continue to dry on the rack overnight. You may have to turn them several times and/or toss again in the sugar. Once sufficiently dry (it may take longer than you expect), store in a bowl or jar. If you put the peel in a jar and it re-liquifies, it needs more drying time.

Salted Grapefruit Margarita and Candied Grapefruit Peel by Snowflake Kitchen

Grapefruit Syrup

A lovely byproduct of the above recipe. Simply strain the leftover syrup, bottle, and use at will. Because it results from sugar, water, zest and pith, this syrup has a decent bitter note. Added to seltzer it makes a great grapefruit soda – one that isn’t too sweet like some off-the-shelf grapefruit beverages. Added to either gin or tequila, it also is a fabulous base for a paloma or margarita. I’m sure you could can it, but I prefer to use this syrup fresh.

Aleppo Pepper Preserved Lemons

Preserved Lemons have a few different aliases: you may know them as lemon pickle or lemon confit (though I tend to think of lemon confit as something else entirely). Whatever you call them, making at least one jar of these has become a favorite yearly tradition of mine, using some of Karen’s wonderful meyers. I love the yearly splurge so – no other time of the year is it more appreciated and so needed. February is tough – the cold around here really starts to get old, record-breaking snowfall wears you out and your bones themselves begin to crave spring. Warm sunny says seem so long ago they become the stuff of legend.

Preserved Lemons by Snowflake Kitchen

Luckily, meyer lemons cure all ills. And preserving them in salt captures their brightness for year-round use. I make a different batch each year. The first year I made them, I used equal parts pimentón and cayenne. They were nothing if not LOUD. The flavor mellowed towards the end of the jar, but in 2012, I veered in a different direction and used curry spices – cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander and cumin seeds. A nice change, but I find myself longing for some heat. Some – in no way shape or form am I anywhere close to becoming a chile head, but I do find myself appreciating some lower-end Scoville units in my preserved lemons.

This year, I went with aleppo pepper. It’s recent arrival bought from a new year spice binge from Whole Spice (PS: they might be having a 30% off sale right now – use the code “spice.” I’m sorry for your wallet/You’re welcome.) I find myself reaching for it when I want to add some subtle heat to savory dishes. Nothing could ever replace the pimentón I remain practically wedded to, but aleppo chiles bring something else the to table. The more I find myself drawn to it, the more I find my thoughts with the city that shares its name. As this batch lasts through the year, I hope by the time I finish it some peace has come to Syria.

Aleppo Preserved Lemons by Snowflake Kitchen

Aleppo Pepper Preserved Lemons
5-6 meyer lemons, ends removed and quartered
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
3 tablespoons crushed aleppo pepper
2 bay leaves
Coarse salt to cover, approximately 1 1/2 cups

Remove both ends of your lemons and quarter them, reserving any juice. Take a wide mouth quart jar and cover the bottom with salt. Mix the remainder of salt with the aleppo and black pepper. Tilt the jar at an angle, careful not to spill any salt, an add quartered lemon slices in one even layer. Tuck your bay leaves on each side, between the lemons and the edge of the jar. Add enough peppered salt to cover, and then add another layer of lemons. Repeat until you are almost out of room in the jar. Top with the remaining salt and reserved lemon juice. Shake on your counter about once a day for a week or so, and then place in a darker spot in your pantry.

To use, strip off the lemon flesh and discard. Chop the peel and add to soup, tagines or even preserves.

Bacon Fried Rice and the Art of Getting Snowed In

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the Northeast got hit with a record-making blizzard last weekend. Connecticut in particular, won the highest snow totals – the New Haven area received 40 inches. Won being a relative term. Yes, I know this is SNOWFLAKE Kitchen… but even I don’t know a single person in this universe that is happy to clean up after a 40 inch storm. Or 35 inches or however much my ‘hood actually got. It was pretty impossible to tell with the wind and drifting. I do know that I spent way too much time dually glued to the Connecticut Light and Power outage map and our Governor’s Twitter feed – which seems to become my m.o. for dealing with these ever-more-frequent natural disasters. And only because we were fortunate enough to keep our power. All of my loved ones stayed lit and warm this storm, but many Nutmeggers spent a cold, cold night in the dark in the howling wind.

snow_collage

Oh well, climate change is just a theory, right? Moving on.

Despite the cleanup, it was gorgeous outside. For a while, anyway. And as I reflect on it, the more I realize there is an art to getting snowed in. Part cliché, part doomsday prepper – anyone can hoard stuff. So why is it that when there is a forecast of impending doom, most people rush to the store to buy eggs, bread and milk? I never understood that. What are you going to make, endless french toast? While there used be forced inspiration in chest freezer triage, admittedly, our storm prep has changed quite a bit with the acquisition of a generator. We always buy plenty of things to eat and it doesn’t matter too much about its shelf-stability.

But oftentimes, you find yourself stuck inside with plenty to eat, but no fun food. A friend said it best this week – when you are snowed in you don’t want the same old thing to munch on with your newly purchased booze. (What – isn’t the first stop on everyone’s storm prep list the liquor store? I thought that one went without saying. Ahem.) I cooked half a package of Terra Firma Farm bacon Saturday morning – part of a late brunch to say THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU to my guy for beginning the long process of shoveling us out. Still – half a package for two people = leftovers. And wanting something warm, comforting and fun while Nemo or Charlotte or whatever-its-name-was raged outside. I looked in the fridge and after surveying all of the options, wanted none of them. My careful storm prep and planned meals aside – it was time for something different. And I daresay no one would call bacon fried rice unfun, especially during Mardi Gras season. Laissez les bacon temps rouler!

Bacon Fried Rice by Snowflake Kitchen

Bacon Fried Rice
4 slices cooked bacon, chopped
1 quart leftover Chinese takeout white rice
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 cup frozen peas
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup water
2 eggs, scrambled
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted

First and foremost – mise en place. This recipe comes together quickly. Place a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. In another small non-stick skillet, add your scrambled eggs. Do not stir – your goal is to make an egg pancake. Flip if necessary. Once solid, chop into small chunks and set aside. In the large skillet, add the oils and once shimmering, throw in the peas and bell pepper. Add the garlic to the peas and pepper and cook for a minute, then add the rice to your vegetables.

Quickly realize the fridge has dried out your takeout rice, stand back and add the half cup of water. Top steaming skillet with a lid and let the rice steam for a minute or so. Throw in chopped bacon and egg. You may need to add a little more oil to get the rice to fry – err on the side of less sesame oil.  Fry to the texture of your liking and top with toasted sesame seeds.

There are definite modifications to be made depending on what you have on hand and – full disclosure – how much you care. Fried rice is about making something delicious out of leftovers. Make it your own. And definitely make enough for breakfast the next day.

Bacon Fried Rice for Breakfast by Snowflake Kitchen

Preserver’s Tikka Masala

Like most people, J and I are trying to make informed choices to start off 2013. Move more. (Hooray desk jobs!) Spend deliberately. (Age old needs vs. wants, but also save and prioritize now that we both have stable jobs – for the moment, anyway. Ah, adulthood.) Eat smartly. (More fruit & veg, cook new things, eat out of our pantry). So – you know – the goals of probably 90% of us this time of year.

I have always loved Indian food. My hometown had just one Indian restaurant – nestled on the edge of town sharing space with a motel. It had at least three names that I can remember (and I assume just as many owners) – but it always had a Sunday fixed price buffet. It became a regular tradition to head out there after church (or – true confession – during “church!”) where we would nothing short of gorge ourselves on biriyani, samosas, pakora, and anything else that made it out to the buffet table. And I was hooked. To this day – if the budget allows, I will always go for Indian when given the choice.

And that’s a big if. While I sort of live in the boonies, I do have more than one takeout choice for my comforting curries and naan. But that said – takeout or eat in, its always at minimum $30 for two people. Not the least expensive option around. So in the spirit of the new year, when the latest craving hit, I started researching recipes. I found one that not only was fairly healthy, but would also please my picky eater better half. And – I had almost all of the ingredients already on hand.

Preserver's Tikka Masala

You’ve got the spices, chicken, herbs and pantry essentials ready to go in addition to that multipurpose tomato puree you put up in September, right? Right. If you have a reasonably well-stocked pantry – you should only have to go out for some cream. Yes, CREAM. Given there is an overwhelming half a cup in a recipe that served two of us for dinner in addition to two leftover lunches, I think it can still be considered a healthy recipe.

Pull your chicken out of the chest freezer and thaw in the fridge overnight. You can marinate the chicken in spices if you wish, but I noticed no flavor difference when I made this all at once after work. Dredge the chicken in flour and then sear in a skillet – in batches if necessary. At the same time, melt your cilantro cubes in a heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven. What? You have no cilantro cubes in oil? Seriously – I saw that post EVERYWHERE this summer. If you still have fresh herbs on your windowsill this time of year – of course use those, but add them at the very end. I add the frozen cilantro in oil at the beginning of this recipe to make use of the oil – otherwise adding it at the end would be too much. No cilantro at all? No sense in buying one of those terrible plastic packets at the store – just add extra coriander or omit – up to you.

Once the oil has melted, add your ginger, garlic, and onion. Once they have browned a bit, add all of the spices. The goal is to toast and brown the mix to give it flavor. While you can toast your spices and then add them, I find it easier to take an extra few minutes to brown them in the same pot. Add chicken once the spices are fragrant. If it looks too oily, add another tablespoon of flour and cook for another minute. Empty in a pint of roasted tomato puree and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Just before you are ready to eat, stir in the cream and simmer for another few minutes.

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Serve with rice, homemade naan & aloo gobi, and enjoy a quick departure from your normal routine. Here’s to 2013.

Bourbon Ginger Hot Toddy

And here I said I was going to be around more and December 2012 went and sucked the words right out of me.

december_window

Well, that and the wretched cold I’ve picked up. Picked up, as in I left for work this morning perfectly healthy – if a little grumpy to be heading back to the office – and a few hours later I had the worst sinus headache, runny nose and all around fogginess in recent memory. Or long term memory – I am almost never sick. Even stranger, I came home and feel worlds better than hours ago at work – no medicine of any kind.

Clearly I am allergic to work and I should never have to go back. Fine by me, as long as they keep up that direct deposit thing.

Maybe it’s just life telling me to slow down, have a cup of something strong and hot, and take some vitamin C. I definitely have that last one down – as I seem to be going through a crate of clementines a week – and it would be faster than that if I weren’t rationing them a bit. Some winter citrus, a little bourbon – just what the doctor ordered.

hot_toddy_1

Bourbon Ginger Hot Toddy
At least one ounce bourbon
Two dehydrated meyer lemon slices or a squeezed wedge of fresh
A small slice of raw ginger – skin and all
Two heaping tablespoons local honey
Boiling water

I usually add the bourbon first, after I’ve put the kettle on. How sick are you feeling? Is this preventative? Is it all in your head? One ounce, then. *cough cough* A little more under the weather? Top it off a bit. I like bourbon (clearly, as you’ve noticed, dear readers) but almost any liquor of choice will do. Spiced rum, whiskey, applejack, even tequila and gin all have toddy versions. Go with what you like.

I throw in the lemon and ginger together and then drizzle honey over them both. For efficiency’s sake – pour the hot water over your honeyed spoon so you can have clean utensils ready to go for round two. Cause let’s face it – you’re going to need a second.

Mix up the spices, citrus and booze. Stick with the heat and ginger, though – for the, uh, medicinal qualities of course. I’m already planning new versions – grapefruit, gin and maple syrup. Applejack and cardamom with dark buckwheat honey. Not into the liquor? Add your favorite tea instead. Truth be told – I don’t care if it’s entirely the placebo effect – one or two of these sets me right as rain every time. Happy 2013 indeed.

hot_toddy_2

PS: If anyone has any other sinus headache tips or thoughts on how to do that whole stay home and still get paid thing, I am all ears.

Sandy (Hook)

After the last three months, its pretty safe to say the word Sandy will forever make me cringe. No one knows what to say after a day like Friday. I am still trying to get my head around it, and I think I never will, really.

I grew up 20 miles from Sandy Hook Elementary, and my parents still live there. Newtown is very much like the communities that surround it – small town, close-knit, everyone knows everyone. My mom works in my hometown’s insurance agency, and whenever we talk on the phone she always fills me in on the local gossip. Did you hear so-and-so is getting married? I talked to [lawyer you used to work for] the other day – he asked about you. Town came to a standstill today when someone backed over the stone wall in front of the post office. It’s New England though – so even though everyone sort of knows everyone else’s business, we all sort of keep to ourselves. It seems, though, that these days, as we grieve as a community, we find out that we really do share the important things.

The national news shouldn’t be reporting from Danbury Hospital, but they are. Danbury effing Hospital – where only last year my dad was treated for a heart attack and almost 21 years ago where my brother was born. And now the freaking Westboro Baptist Church – yes, those insatiable asshats – are taking it upon themselves to roll into town parading their ignorance and hate speech. It seems that all I can manage is to clutch a mug of something warm and stare out the window shaking my head.

You see: this kind of thing shouldn’t happen at all, but it just. doesn’t. happen. here.

The weather today reflects my mood: cold, cloudy, intermittent wintry mix. I’m having trouble smiling. I’m having trouble thinking of anything else. Going through the motions doesn’t begin to describe.

I’m not a parent, and I grieve. I’m not a teacher, and I grieve. I suppose I grieve as a Connecticut native. And I grieve with the world for my state and the region where I grew up.

And then it was November.

If you read other seasonal preserving blogs, you know posting dies down in shoulder season. Because there are tomatoes and corn, raspberries and ever-bearing strawberries, summer and winter squash, all before the pommes roll in – and because we are all a little insane, we try to do it ALL. There has been more than one Sunday where I brought home two CSA bags, 50 lbs of tomatoes, 25 lbs of leftover farmers’ market apples, and – what the hell – my favorite orchard had a deal on a flat of fall raspberries.

When you end your Sundays absolutely wiped out, work Monday morning is trying. Hell, when you are in a job that drives you crazy – every Monday morning is trying. And then Monday rolls into Tuesday, which seems the same as Wednesday… and before you know it its Saturday and you have another metric ton of veg, CSA, and bulk pickup headed your way. Every. single. day. seemed like nothing but triage.

I am one of those people who externalizes internal disorder. My kitchen will be full of unfinished projects and dirty dishes, I will have piles upon piles of dirty laundry next to a floordrobe, and I will come home from work every day, pour myself a drink, and pretend it doesn’t exist. But, as life sorts itself out, so too does my environment. I have a different job now – one that adds to my life instead of takes away from it. My closet is organized and everything in it has a purpose. And most importantly – my kitchen is CLEAN and EFFICIENT.

I’ll be the first to admit it – our fall storms last year left scars. I still spent too much time in the very spot I type in now, waiting for the gunshot crack of a tree snapping in the storm – waiting to see if our house was in its path. And I don’t need to talk about life without power or my past losses, because the Northeast experienced them all over again a year to the day. We were very, very lucky this time, but so many had (and still have weeks later) opposite fortunes.

There have been wonderful things cooking around here since July. Grilled peach bourbon butter, plums in wine and honey, hucklebourbon jam, sweet pepper and spicy squash relish, roasted salsa verde, pear cranberry butter with maple and ginger, really excellent fermented apple cider vinegar… and more recently: vanilla quince butter, membrillo and kimchi. Plans for a big batch of seckel pears in spiced syrup this week. It’s a shame – typing up posts on some of them would be so cruel as the snow melts from our first nor’easter.

I, for one, am thankful for the break. Writing is like cooking – you can always tell when your heart just isn’t in it. It’s not something you can fake. But as the seasons reset, life shakes itself out, and things slow down for a few months, you will likely see me around these parts more often. And as cheesy as it sounds – I am so very glad you are still here.

Pickled Blues

I was invited to the Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market this past Sunday. The weekend’s theme was Blueberries and Bluegrass. After a decent strawberry yield (does anyone else remember last year’s strawberries going on forever?), a quick summer raspberry season and a blink-and-you-miss it cherry season, Connecticut was due for some beautiful and plentiful fruit.

At the beginning of the growing season, I overdose on strawberries. I mean WAY too much. Like six varieties of strawberry jams and two more preserves too much. That said – after I crack open my last jar of strawb something in the bleak midwinter, the anticipation of REAL local taste-like-nothing-else strawberries in June makes them that much sweeter. You can absolutely make blueberry jam, with these very same spices (if, unlike me, you need another jam), but at this point I am in the mood for something different.

I made this preserve for the first time last summer, and in a very double duty kind of way ended up with whole berries and almost another jar of blueberry vinegar. Perfect for vinaigrette, a blueberry soda, or one heckuva blueberry martini.

Hot Pack Pickled Blueberries
Adapted from Hungry Tigress’ Whole Pickled Blueberries
2-3 quarts of blueberries
2 cups 5% apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon fenugreek

Tigress does this recipe over two days. While I love the idea, I never have that kind of time or fridge space this time of year. So I heat blueberries, spices and vinegar until just simmering, and then immediately turn off the heat. While you can put the spices in any way you like, I like to put them in a cloth bag or tea ball for easy removal. You can leave them in, but spices have a way of intensifying (for better or worse) in the jar. While the spices infuse in the vinegar (and the vinegar infuses in the blueberries for that matter), heat up your canner. (New to canning? The National Center for Home Preservation is a great resource for boiling waterbath instructions.) When the jars are thoroughly boiled, add the sugar, bring the blues back to a simmer. Simmer for just a minute or two to keep the fruit intact. With a slotted spoon, put the fruit in your jar of choice (I like wide mouth half pints) and top with hot vinegar syrup, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Process for 15 minutes.

Like most pickles, this needs a few weeks to really come into its own. While you can store this pickle with a good seal for up to a year in a cool dark space, I would wait at least two weeks before cracking open your first jar.

Options
This recipe can easily be adapted to stone fruit – plums, peaches, or cherries would be lovely. I dont think other delicate berries would stand up to the process.

You could turn this into a fridge pickle by combining the ingredients and then stopping before the waterbath step. Ladle into a jar of choice, let cool, and refrigerate.

Use vinegar of your choice, but if you intend on canning the recipe, make sure the bottle says 5% acidity. If you want it to be a fridge pickle only, any vinegar is your pleasure.

I love fenugreek in my sweet pickles. Cloves, allspice or bay would also be good additions here.